Flogas and Cardiff University develop world-first ammonia steam boiler for industry

Project secures £3.4m government funding to help decarbonise UK’s off-grid businesses

Off-grid energy supplier Flogas Britain and Cardiff University have been awarded £3.4m by the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero to develop a world-first ammonia steam boiler that will help decarbonise off-grid businesses across the UK.

Over the next two years, Flogas, who leads the project, and the academics at Cardiff University’s Net Zero Innovation Institute will prove that ammonia is a viable, cost-effective renewable fuel for large energy users off the mains gas grid, helping contribute to legally binding net zero targets.

Using the funding from the UK Government’s £55m Industrial Fuel Switching Competition, as part of the £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP), they will develop a first-of-its-kind, 1MW ammonia-fuelled steam boiler. This will undergo trial at an active commercial manufacturing site, proving its advantages over other low-carbon solutions.

“The off-mains industry in the UK is notoriously hard to decarbonise, and a lot of it is still powered by carbon-heavy oil, so finding cleaner, greener alternatives is a significant, pressing challenge,” says James Rudman, Business Development Director at Flogas.

“Whilst LPG is an excellent transition fuel for oil users, cutting carbon by 20%* as well as other polluting emissions – to help off-grid businesses get all the way to net zero, we’re expanding our portfolio of renewables, including a range of green gases.

“Ammonia is a key part of this; we believe it’s a compelling, highly effective renewable option for off-grid industry, and an extremely cost effective one too. Plus, businesses running on LPG now, will be able to switch to ammonia in the future with modification to equipment.”

From left to right: Dr. Syed Mashruk & Prof. Agustin Valera-Medina from Cardiff University; James Rudman & Muhammad Taufiq from Flogas; and Ross Docherty from Protech

To date, technical barriers associated with ammonia combustion have meant ammonia-fuelled boilers have not yet been available on the market. However, the research team has developed an innovative, patented boiler design that overcomes these challenges, including low flame speed and increased nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The next phase of research will build on this work and demonstrate that the boiler design works effectively in an industrial setting.

Dr Syed Mashruk of the Net Zero Innovation Institute and School of Engineering adds, “In a net zero world, the oil used by businesses and industry must be replaced by a fuel that is cost-effective and zero carbon, and green ammonia is a promising alternative fuel. It can be distributed easily and stored inexpensively using infrastructure that has been well established already in the fertiliser sector.

“Over the course of this project, we will bring to life our conceptual design for a 1 MW ammonia-fed steam boiler, creating a prototype and rigorously testing and improving it. At the end of the project, we aim to have a boiler that’s fit for commercialisation, and fuelled only by clean ammonia, which Flogas will then supply to customers as an off-grid industrial heating option.”

Supporting Flogas and Cardiff University on the ‘Amburn’ project are low carbon energy consultants Element Energy, who will lead project management, as well as Flogas’s recently acquired commercial heating and renewables company Protech Group, who will provide expert advice on combustion design.

As part of the study, a new Centre of Excellence on Ammonia Technologies will be created at Cardiff University’s Net Zero Innovation Institute, developing its already world-leading ammonia combustion expertise and facilities.

This is phase two of government funding for the Amburn project and will run until early 2025. Phase one, which successfully concluded in November 2022, focused on the development of the patented burner technology design and received £242k funding.

*Greenhouse gas reporting: conversion factors 2022 – Department for Energy Security & Net Zero